The Cavaliers put themselves in an early hole and never recovered. The Cavs came out sloppy (Mo Williams threw away a few entry passes in the first two minutes) while the Bulls came out smoking hot. Derek Rose had 15 of his 31 points in the first quarter and the Bulls jumped out an 11 point lead that the Cavs never overcame. Chicago’s lead ballooned to as much 21 but the Cavs would get it back down to 11 at the end of each of the first three quarters.
They finally turned things around in the fourth quarter. The Cavs, going small with LeBron at the four (and Jamison at the five), slowly whittled away the Chicago lead, getting it down two (104-102) with 10 seconds left. The Cavs went with Mo-West-Parker-LBJ-Jamison for the bulk of the period. After Rose split a pair of free throws, the Cavs drew up a play to get a three. Unfortunately, they threw the ball to Varejao (who was going to give it back to Mo in the corner) but the Bulls quickly fouled him, putting Andy at the line for two (which he split). Talk about frustrating; the Cavs had a chance to tie the game and didn’t even get a shot attempt. Ugh. The Bulls kept the Cavs in it by missing free throws and Cleveland actually had a chance at the end, but Anthony Parker’s halfcourt heave barely missed.
The little things drive me nuts (also, do free throws count as little things?). Shaq missed a dunk and many Cavaliers missed some bunnies. Anthony Parker had a foot on the sideline when he received a pass. Mo threw away entry passes. Jamison lost track of Deng in the open court and committed a terrible foul in response. The Cavs just didn’t seem completely focused and I thought they settled for too many threes. Sure, they were 40% from downtown but they shot a whopping 35 bombs (every starter except Shaq attempted at least six). The Cavs went just 20-31 from the stripe as a team, with Mo (2-5) and LeBron (7-13) as the worst offenders.
LeBron was great, per usual. LeBron ended up with 39 points (14-26 FG, 4-8 3PT), 10 boards, 8 assists, 3 blocks and 2 steals. Damn. But he wasn’t perfect. LeBron was just 7-13 from the stripe and there were times (like the end of the third quarter) where he settled for jumpers. However, there were also times where the Cavs needed a basket and simply went inside and got it. I’m not sure why he doesn’t attack more, it’s not like Brad Miller or Joakim Noah are major shot blockers (this goes for the whole team though. 35 threes? Really guys?).
The refs were not good (but not the reason the Cavs lost). There were some fishy calls down the stretch, the most obvious being LeBron’s charge that should’ve been an ‘and-one’ with 1:17 left. James was also held on the rebound of Varejao’s missed free throw and West was called for a terrible travel (on a pass!) that took away a layup for Jamison. There were some weak calls on the Cavs (Varejao had some ticky-tacks and there were more than a few moving picks) but it’s not like the refs were really helping the Bulls.
Alright Mike Brown, you’re starting to scare me. The refusal to go small (it worked a bit in the second quarter, why wait so long to come back to it?), coupled with the poor start and the last second play (Varejao’s free throws) left a bad taste in my mouth. Luol Deng missed a free throw with 3 seconds left but the Cavs were forced into a half court heave since they were out of timeouts. I don’t get why J.J. Hickson hasn’t seen any time, especially this game (they needed an energy injection quite badly). Brown only played Z for 5 minutes, meaning the big rotation was just Shaq, Anderson and Jamison (none of which had a good game, though Antawn finished with 19-7) yet there was no sign of J.J. I mean, this is a kid who started all season long and he’s just gonna sit the whole playoffs? I’ve always liked Browns game-to-game adjustments, but he worries me in the heat of the moment.
But give the Bulls credit, they played great. Derek Rose continues to light up the Cavalier defense (including LeBron), finishing with 31 points and 7 assists. He’s nearly unstoppable when his jumper was falling as it did on Thursday night. Luol Deng played well, scoring 20 points and forcing LeBron to work on both ends of the floor. However, it was Kirk Hinrich who won the difference for Chicago. Every time the Cavs seemed to pull close (say 8 points), Hinrich was there to knock down a three or get an easy basket for a teammate. Hinrich finished with 27 points on 9-12 shooting (4-4 3pt), 5 boards and 5 assists (though he missed some freebies that kept the Cavs alive at the end).
Well, at least they aren’t going to sweep and get too much time off. Hopefully, this game will serve as a wakeup call. These Bulls aren’t last season’s Pistons; they’re young and they’re hungry and the Cavs are going to have to actually work to beat them. I have no doubt that the Cavs will win this series; the Bulls played about as well as they could play, while the Cavs stunk and yet Cleveland still had a chance at the end. The Cavs have to learn (you’d think) that they can’t just turn on the intensity in the fourth quarter. Hopefully, the Cavs will take Game 4 and then close out the series next Tuesday in Cleveland.